The situation was dire: People were flocking to cities for work, but scarce land and lack of new construction were driving up rent prices. Middle-income residents couldn’t afford the high-end housing stock, nor did they want to enter cramped—sometimes illegally so—apartments. Luckily, a new housing solution appeared: In exchange for small, single-occupancy units, residents could share amenities—like a restaurant-kitchen, dining area, lounge, and cleaning services—that were possible thanks to economies of scale. Sound familiar? It should: It’s the basic premise behind Carmel Place, a micro-apartment development in Manhattan’s Kips Bay that recently started leasing. The development—whose 55 units range from 260 to 360 square feet—was the result of Mayor Bloomberg’s 2012 adAPT NYC Competition to find housing solutions for the city’s shortage of one- and two-person apartments. Back then, Carmel Place needed special legal exceptions to be built, but last March the city removed the 400-square-foot minimum on individual units. While density controls mean another all-micro-apartment building is unlikely, only building codes will provide a de facto minimum unit size (somewhere in the upper 200 square foot range). What does this deregulation mean for New York City’s always-turbulent housing market? Will New Yorkers get new, sorely needed housing options or a raw deal? In a way, this deregulation is a return to an old, widespread, and subsequently outlawed, real estate formula. In New York City at the turn of the 20th century, converting hotels into apartments, and offering single-occupancy units with communal amenities, helped alleviate a housing shortage. These “apartment hotels” were wildly successful until legal changes in 1929 largely eliminated them. Now, it seems, the pendulum of history is swinging back: Carmel Place also offers shared amenities and services through a company named ollie (a wordplay on “all inclusive”). The project’s developer, Monadnock Development, has brought in ollie to facilitate weekly house cleaning, limited butler service, and more, to the building’s 25 market rate units and eight units for veterans with Section 8 vouchers. Those units will also come with space-saving furniture; the other 22 units are affordable but not serviced by ollie. While micro-apartments haven’t yet proliferated, there is a fundamental economic formula that makes them appealing for developers. It boils down to the difference between rent per square foot and chunk rent. The former is what developers use as a metric for market demand and revenue. The latter is the monthly rent the tenant pays. “Ollie is a sustainable housing model for attainably [sic] priced, high-quality housing, and we're really exploiting that understanding that the consumer is paying on a chunk rent basis and the developer is driving their model on a dollar per square foot basis,” explained Christopher Bledsoe, ollie’s cofounder. Furthermore, because rent is less a strain on residents’ finances, they become more reliable and long-term tenants. This dynamic isn’t just conjecture. Before ollie worked on Carmel Place, it renovated and leased micro units in an old Upper West Side building to demonstrate demand for smaller apartments. (The company didn’t offer its standard suite of amenities and services, so the development wasn’t branded “ollie.”) “One of the surprises is that this [micro unit] market is far broader than Millenials,” said Bledsoe. About 30 percent of the building’s renters were over age 34; they included empty nesters, retirees, those seeking to downsize or own pied-a-terres, long distance commuters, and many young couples, not all of whom were Millennials. Units in that building ranged from 178 to 375 square feet; demand was so high rent shot up to around $2,250 for the smallest units, $3,000 for the largest. “Over 40 percent of the tenants coming in [to the Upper West Side micro units] opted for a lease longer than 12 months. That's huge,” said Bledsoe. In light of this, Carmel Place is a more mature experiment in micro-living: What combination of amenities, services, and architecture can upend the long-held real estate belief that square footage determines what people will pay? This is where ollie’s pitch comes in: “For every one square foot I can eliminate from the apartment, I can give back $50 a year to the tenant in services,” said Bledsoe. Bledsoe sells ollie as essentially doing two things for renters: First, it leverages its purchasing power to provide economies of scale to its residents. Space-savvy products from Resource Furniture, WiFi, cable, Hello Alfred butler service, housekeeping, and social club membership through Magnises, are folded into the tenant’s rent. Bledsoe argues that those expenses are frequently hidden in rents, so including them helps tenants save time and keep Carmel Place competitive with nearby comparable units. Furthermore, he added, “It's not just about services and amenities, it's about the community.” At Carmel Place, a live-in community manager helps arrange social events ranging from BBQs to lectures by guest speakers. While ollie was hired after Carmel Place was designed by New York–based nARCHITECTS, the building’s design facilitated ollie’s mission: Carmel Place features a long, open, “main street” lobby, a ground floor gym, and on the top floor, a communal kitchen, dining area, extensive terrace, and outdoor grills. The walls between the top floor’s private terraces can even be swung aside, creating one giant shared terrace. ollie’s vision for a communal, dorm-like experience also recalls WeLive, WeWork’s coliving experiment (which, unlike a true apartment, doesn’t offer leases beyond 30 days). Rent at Carmel Place isn’t cheap: At the time of writing this article, unit 6H, furnished and 265 square feet, is going for $2,720 per month. If and when less expensive micro units are built, don’t count on the same quality furniture: Carmel Place’s Resource Furniture can quickly transform a studio into a one bedroom, but it’ll dent your wallet (a standard Carmel Place Resource Furniture setup costs $13,465). If micro-apartments proliferate, isn’t there risk that some won’t be able to afford that kind of hardware? “Yeah, absolutely,” said Frank Dubinsky, vice president at Monadnock Development, who added that, “In the future what will likely happen is there needs to be more furniture out there that works in these spaces. Resource's stuff is great but it's not inexpensive.” And what about affordable housing—will the next generation of New York’s affordable units be bare, 260 square foot apartments? Thankfully, on that count, no. When it comes to the city’s new MIH (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) program, where developers must set aside 20 percent to 30 percent of a residential building’s floor areas for affordable housing, an affordable studio can’t be less than 400 square feet and an affordable one-bedroom can’t be less than 575 square feet. Furthermore, the mix of affordable unit types (studios, one-bedrooms, etc.) must match the ratio of market rate units. Combined with density controls, it’s very unlikely a residential building would use all its floor area for micro-apartments. MIH policies are currently only in effect in the recently rezoned East New York neighborhood but, overall, the program is a major part of the de Blasio administration’s plans to build or preserve 200,000 affordable units over the next decade. There’s also the unpredictable law of supply and demand to consider. California may offer some insight: In the 1980s, in a push to increase affordable housing stock, San Diego passed a legislation to allow micro-apartments. The practice subsequently spread to L.A., San Francisco, and beyond. “To a certain extent, you have to let people vote with they wallets,” said David Baker of San Francisco–based David Baker Architects. Baker’s firm recently designed an upscale condominium development in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley; half of its 69 units are micro-apartments. “If it doesn't rent, people won't build them. If you have more competition, they'll be better and rent for less.” Monadnock and nARCHITECTS created voluminous, bright, airy interiors for Carmel Place units. “Those things are not required by the zoning code—tall ceilings and big windows—but I think they're part and parcel with this becoming a replicable typology in New York City,” said Dubinsky. Only time will tell if New Yorkers avoid less generous micro-units, a fact that isn’t heartening to those were excited to see so many innovative housing solutions—including a full-scale, Resource Furniture-equipped micro-apartment interior—at the 2013 exhibition Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers at the Museum of the City of New York. Perhaps mid-tier micro-apartments will appear, along with lower cost furniture to match. Conversely, there’s the possibility that micro-apartments will remain a niche market in select cities where housing stock is short and a few urbanites will trade “space for place.” “At present, and for the foreseeable future, micro units are such a small segment of the new multi-family housing supply that's coming online in cities that it's highly unlikely they're going to have any material impact on rent,” said Stockton Williams, executive director of the Terwilliger Center for Housing at the Washington, D.C.–based Urban Land Institute (ULI). But in terms of how micro-housing is already evolving, ollie’s next two projects, one East Coast, one West Coast, may presage what form it’ll take. The first, in Long Island City, is 42 stories. Floors two through 15 will contain 426 ollie-served micro-apartments. They’ll have the same basic suite of amenities found at Carmel Place (Resource Furniture, WiFi, Hello Alfred, etc.). However, the conventional apartments can also opt into ollie’s services. The second development, in downtown Los Angeles, involves—in a twist of historical irony—a hotel. Located on a 192,000-square-foot site, the project will feature 30,000 square feet of amenities and retail. The 300 ollie micro-apartments will have access to the hotel’s amenities: “Rooftop pool, gym, lounge spaces, food and beverage, essentially what you'd expect to find in a trendy hotel amenities program,” said Bledsoe. “We're even talking about putting recording studios in the basement, doing some fun things that are more local.” Some of the micro-units will actually be micro suites (micro-units with a shared bathroom and kitchen), a model that a 2014 ULI report identified as being even more profitable for the developer. Maybe cities will find new reasons to dislike micro-apartments—when cities emptied in the 70s, their Single Room Occupancy (SRO) developments deteriorated, became stigmatized, and were vastly cut back. But this time around, there’s growing awareness among developers that communal living is marketable and desired by tenants. “For a lot of people home is the happy place, but more home doesn't equal more happy. I think more home equals more money and more maintenance,” said Bledsoe. But the exploration of micro-apartments’ future is just beginning. As Baker explained, they’re popular among seniors, not only for being cheaper, but simply “It's a lot less to clean… and they want the bathroom to be closer.” Seniors’ micro-apartments with rooftop shuffleboard? Middle-class micro-apartments paired with a Motel 6? Who knows. But if the micro-apartment does indeed take this many forms, maybe the pendulum of history won’t know which way to swing.
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Hailing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, Ori is a range of adaptable homeware and furniture designed to maximize the potential of small spaces. With its name coming from the Japanese word "origami," the furniture system combines robotics, architecture, and design to let interiors double-up as bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, and offices. Teaming up with Swiss product designer Yves Béhar, founder and CEO of Ori and research scientist at MIT Hasier Larrea has his eyes set on fundamentally altering the "experience and economics of the urban built environment." Speaking in a press release, Larrea added that "Ori’s systems make possible the effortless and magical transformation of interior spaces, providing the totally new experience of having our interior space intelligently conform to our activities, rather than our activities being forced to conform to our interior space." The firm argues that contemporary urban dwellings have become overtly static and unresponsive, an inefficiency that is ill-affordable in today's housing climate. A movable mainframe, containing a variety of concealable furniture and storage, is the core concept in Ori's modular and mechatronic furniture. Using the wall mounted control panel, the module can move across the floor and deploy different pieces of furniture. This can all be done remotely through the Ori app as well (perfect for if you want your space to be ready for an impromptu party.) With words such as "mechatronic," "modular," and "efficiency" being banded around, it would be easy to assume that such a system has aesthetics as an afterthought. That, however, is where Yves Béhar comes in. While being part of the functional design process, Ori's quality of finish makes it an appealing addition to dwellings that are hard-pressed on floor space. In a design statement, Béhar says:
Cities such as London, Seattle, San Francisco and almost everywhere else are seeing an influx of young professionals, yet those urban centers are more expensive and more condensed. People are seeking smaller living spaces as an economic opportunity, and while it meshes well with notions of sustainability, the question Ori is tackling is: how do we accommodate a living room, bedroom, closet and office space in a small 200-300 square feet apartment? While these micro living spaces enable developers to provide more housing options and allow renters and buyers affordability and a smaller carbon footprint, they clearly lack the need for life's different accommodations that larger apartments provide. While some may view these small spaces as a necessity, a group of MIT engineers saw this as an opportunity – how do we maximize our use of these spaces, providing the experience of luxury living without the luxury of size? Better yet, what if your living space could physically transform to create any environment you need? We teamed up with Ori to design a system of robotic furniture: transformable units that can triple the usage of a given space.While not on the market just yet, inquiries can be made via Ori's website here.
Search Twitter for #mallmonday and see a hilariously bleak photo series that profiles different malls, some dead, some impossibly sad, each week. Why are these depressing spaces so popular with architects? By giving new life to these huge, redundant spaces, architects tap into ruinophilia to feed a culturally ingrained desire for dramatic transformation and also temper the excesses of capitalism, maybe. In the Texas capital, Austin Community College annexed semi-vacant Highland Mall for a new campus, while NBBJ is reviving a dead mall in downtown Columbus. In Providence, Rhode Island, Northeast Collaborative Architects (NCA) handily combined dead mall revivification with micro-apartments, for an timely transformation of downtown's Arcade Providence, the oldest shopping mall in the United States. The 1828 Greek Revival–style mall was closed for the last three years. Designed by Russell Warren and James Bucklin, the three-story mall was America's first enclosed shopping arcade. In a $7 million renovation, Providence-based NCA turned the mall, a National Historic Landmark, into a mixed-use development with 17 retail stores on the ground floor and 48 micro-apartments on top. Apartments open out onto a shared walkway, an arrangement that would be penitentiary-chic if not for a skylit atrium. Unlike micro-apartments in New York, where market-rate rents at Carmel Place range from $2,540 to $2,910 per month, rents at Arcade Providence begin at $550 per month for a 225 to 450 square-foot one-bedroom, My Modern Met reports. (Two- and three-bedroom units are also available.) Those units come with a full bathroom, kitchenette, and a built-in bed with storage. Tenants have access to shared laundry, TV room, and game room, as well as bike storage, and parking. Right now, the only catch for prospective tenants is the 4,000 person waiting list.
The scaffolding just came off of Carmel Place, the 10-story, 55-unit micro-apartment building designed by Brooklyn-based nARCHITECTS. The project, formerly known as My Micro NY, has diminutive units designed to serve the "small household population." The project sits at One Mount Carmel Place, a looping side street boxed in between 28th Street, First Avenue, 27th Street, and Second Avenue in Kips Bay, Manhattan. The towers are vertically striped in four shades of grey brick (as seen in the renderings below), though in some of Field Condition's photographs the brick takes on a brownish hue. The tower is constructed of 92 modular units, which were themselves built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The massing somewhat reference's BIG's Two World Trade Center, whose irregularly stacked upper stores are smaller-but-wider to accommodate terraces. The interiors are meant to make the Lilliputian apartments feel as spacious as possible. The ceilings are nine-and-a-half feet tall, and exterior doors slide, rather than swing. Seventy cubic feet of storage spaces over the bathrooms and 70-square-foot kitchens with extra fold-out counter space reduce clutter and allow for full scale movement in the space. Juliet balconies, with a comparatively generous 63 square feet of floor area, allow access to the outdoors. Each of the six different types of units, ranging in size from 273 to 360 square feet, come equipped with interior furnishings. The architects collaborated with New York–based Resource Furniture on the built-ins (like the bed-couch), and other furnishings from Stage 3 Properties through Ollie. Ollie decorates rental apartments, organizes community events in-building, and offers amenities packages that include housekeeping and wifi. Carmel Place offers a standard range of amenities: bike storage, lounge, fitness room, public roof terrace, and community room. 525 square feet of ground-floor retail, plus the glassed-in, street-facing gym, anchors the development to the outside. Here as everywhere, competition for the building's affordable units is intense, with 60,000 applications submitted for the 14 apartments. All tenants could be moving in as early as March 2016.
Thanks to high rents, New York City is losing one of its longtime modular construction companies at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. And the news could send ripples through the city's prefab construction scene. Capsys, a pre-fab builder founded in 1996, was paying $4 per square foot for its space in the Navy Yard, far below what other tenants were paying. The going rent, $20 per square foot, for manufacturing space at the Navy Yard is already set below market to retain firms that would otherwise not be able to afford to do business in the city. Upon learning in 2010 that their longterm lease was not being renewed, Capsys went hunting for new space. The advantage of local prefab construction is cost and quality control. Building are constructed at the factory by (usually) nonunion workers. Architects can check in on the projects, correcting any flaws before the pieces are shipped. Although rents are lower in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, being based locally cuts down on expensive overland shipping costs. Recently, though, new regulations require modular units to have an (expensive) police escort when the units are ferried to construction sites. For almost ten years, Capsys was the only modular builder in the Navy Yard until Forest City Ratner moved its operations there. With new owners of Forest City's Pacific Park, it looks like Forest City's modular building operations may close, though this could be due less to rising rents and more to design issues that incur costs. The shortcomings of Pacific Park's B2, the SHoP Architects–designed world's tallest modular tower, have been widely documented. Capsys has designed 55 micro-apartments for Carmel Place (the building formerly known as adAPT NYC), and Alexander Gorlin's Nehemiah townhouses, among other projects. When the company closes shop, Capsys will sell its intellectual property to a Pennsylvania company.
It took just about one month to fully stack New York City's first modular, micro-unit housing complex. The nARCHITECTS-designed building, known as Carmel Place is located on Manhattan's East Side and offers 55 apartments that range between 260 and 360 square feet. You might remember that the project won Michael Bloomberg's adAPT NYC Competition back in 2013. Field Condition has been visiting Carmel Place over the last month, and recently reported that every one of the building's 66 modules has been set into place. Now that all of the modules are stacked, on-site facade installation is expected to begin. The entire project should wrap up by the end of the year.
Piece by piece, Watch as New York City’s first micro-unit housing complex by nArchitects takes shape
New York City's first-ever entirely micro-unit housing complex is being stacked together on Manhattan's East Side. Back in February, we wrote that the modules for the nARCHITECTS-designed building were being assembled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and now we can report that they have begun arriving at their permanent home in Kips Bay. https://vimeo.com/129103128 The project, which is being developed by Monadnock, won Michael Bloomberg's adAPT NYC Competition in 2013 and was originally known as My Micro NY. It has since since been given the more conventional-sounding name: Carmel Place. Each of Carmel Place's units measure between 260 and 360 square feet and offer nine-and-a-half-foot-tall ceilings. If tenants are feeling a bit cramped, they can lean over their Juliette balconies for some air, or step into one of Carmel Place's (non-micro) communal spaces like the gym, lounge, or terrace. "While there are currently micro-apartments in buildings throughout the city, regulations do not allow an entire building to be comprised only of micro-units," the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development said in a statement. "This pilot project will help inform potential regulatory changes that could allow the development of micro-unit apartment buildings in appropriate locations." The 11-story building is slated to be completed by the end of the year and will have a mix of market-rate and subsidized units, and housing for veterans. The market-rate units will be listed between $2,000–3,000. You can watch the installation process in the video above, made by Lloyd Alter of Treehugger.
The concept of micro-living is really having a moment right now. For starters, there is a TV show called Tiny House Nation that celebrates the trend of packing fully functioning homes into bite-sized spaces where all redundancies are removed and functionality is king. Beds become couches, kitchen counters become desks, bathtubs become second bedrooms, and so on and so forth. And right this very moment, in Brooklyn, micro-units are being assembled for New York City's first-ever micro-unit complex, called My Micro NY. The building, which will soon rise on East 27th Street in Manhattan, was designed by nARCHITECTS, the winner of Michael Bloomberg's 2013 adAPT NYC Competition. My Micro NY's 55 units will range from 260 to 360 square feet, and rent between $2,000 and $3,000, according to the New York Times. So no, micro-living does not necessarily mean cheap living—especially in Manhattan. Obviously, the hyper-efficient, everything-folds-into-something-else lifestyle would find its way to Portlandia at some point. And now it has, so watch below as Fred and Carrie try to live big in the smallest way possible. [h/t FastCo Design]
One year after nARCHITECTS won a New York City–led competition to design a micro-unit housing development, financing is in place to start construction. The Commercial Observer reports that M&T bank has secured a $10.3 million loan for the project known, which is known as “My Micro NY.” The nine-story building will rise in Kips Bay and contain 55 prefab units—each of which will measure roughly 300-square-feet. Nearly half of these units will rent at below-market rents. The paper reports, “The mini apartments will contain nearly 10-foot ceilings and seven-foot-wide balconies in addition to 16-foot-long overhead loft spaces and full closets.” The apartments are expected to come onto the market next year.
Designing for a smaller spaces shouldn't translate to a reduction in quality finishes and fixtures. Following are a selection of bath fittings that serve as exceptional finds for tight rooms. Open Space Shower Duravit Vienna-based Eoos has collaborated on a folding shower that’s perfect for a bathroom with limited square footage. Available in clear or mirrored glass, the four walled unit folds into a chrome frame that conveniently hides all fittings, including shower and fixtures, when not in operation. The bottom can be outfitted with Duravit’s shower tray or set onto a tiled floor with a drain. Maris Wall-Hung Toilet TOTO Toto’s trim Maris wall-hung toilet offers space-saving solutions for powder rooms or small bathrooms. Besides adding nine inches of floor space, the hidden tank and dual flush system optimizes water efficiency without sacrificing performance. The bowl is protectively coated with Sanigloss, which makes cleaning a breeze. Roman and Williams District Tile-Crown Molding Waterworks Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch’s new R.W. Atlas fittings line of bath fixtures for Waterworks includes a tile collection as well as District Tile Trimmers, hand glazed ornamental tile details that come in a range of 16 shades, and in 14 sizes. The addition of crown molding to a tiled wall can add architectural interest while creating the illusion of a master bath, even in a tiny abode. Gentle Single Lever Dornbracht Italian designer Matteo Thun’s Gentle fixture collection now includes everything a proper bath requires: a towel rack, hook, tub handle, and soap dish. The single lever wall-mounted faucet in polished chrome takes up limited wall space and can be switched on with a flip of the wrist. Quadtwo Boffi American designer Jeffrey Bernett has created the perfect solution for a tight squeeze. Quadtwo, an all-in-one sink and cabinet combination, is made from MDF, lacquered in a matte finish, and offered in 15 colors. The surface is manufactured from Cristalplant with drawers that have the option to be specified on the left or right side. Kilo Sink Hastings Hasting’s new Whitestone collection of ceramic sinks comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, all recessed, inset, and wall-hung. Offered in 25 styles and cast from clay, the Kilo sink’s thin construction creates the illusion of lightness while the support is knockdown sturdy.
From coast to coast, micro-apartments are all the rage these days. Right on the heels of announcing the winning design team for its first micro-apartment competition, the New York Observer reported that the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) Commissioner Matthew Wambua told a crowd at the Citizens Housing Planning Council yesterday that the city is already scouting out two or three city-owned sites for its next micro-unit development. Once these locations are identified, the HPD said it will put out requests for proposals. The winning team of the city’s adAPT NYC Competition consisted of nARCHITECTS, Monadnock Development, and Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation. This will not only be the city’s first foray into micro-apartment development, but it will also be one of the first projects in Manhattan to use modular construction.
Nowadays it seems that everyone is jumping on the micro apartment bandwagon, and it only makes sense that a bite-size state like Rhode Island would pick up on this trend. Developer Evan Granoff is restoring the historic Providence Arcade (also known as Westminster Arcade), the oldest existing indoor mall in America dating to 1828, and converting it into a mixed-use complex with retail on the ground floor and micro apartments on the second and third levels. J. Michael Abbott of Northeast Collaborative Architects is leading the renovation of the Greek Revival-style Arcade. Granoff said that the original layout of the building naturally accommodates the micro apartments: “The building was interesting in the way that it is built. It divided itself into very small spaces pretty easily.” There’s already a long waiting list for the 48 units, of which 38 are micro-sized ranging from 225 to 450-square-feet. Each unit will come furnished with built-in beds, seating, and storage. The building will offer residents common gathering space, bike access, and storage. “It is designed to avoid clutter and to have everything flow,” said Granoff. Granoff anticipates that residents should be able to move in by this Spring. The Museum of the City of New York included the Arcade’s micro apartments in its recent exhibit, “Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers.”